Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mom Fit!

It's been a long time since I posted anything about training, because the last year or so has been a bit of a roller coaster (in a good way!) of getting pregnant, being pregnant, having a wonderful baby girl, and getting healthy after giving birth.

Our little dumplin', Ryan Valkyrie!

I've just picked back up into working out daily, and it's humbling - but also feels so good to be back. Unfortunately, the nearest on-the-water rowing is a good 45 minute drive away, so I'm only able to do that some weekends, but the good news is that there are lots of beautiful places to run, hike, and bike nearby.

The first four months of being pregnant, I was trying to manage all-day morning sickness nausea with doing some training. It wasn't easy and I have a lot of respect for women who keep training at a high load while feeling like that! I also had to give up running after just a few months because it got really uncomfortable. Thankfully, rowing and erging still felt pretty okay for most of my pregnancy. I raced the Head of the Charles, in honor of my cousin Byron, with my mom at 7 months pregnant, and we actually went more than 2 minutes faster than our race a couple of years ago! (Shoutout to JL for hooking me up with a maternity unisuit!)

Lofgrens 1, 2, and 3 - just finished racing HOCR, 7 months pregnant!

For the last month or two of my pregnancy, I ran out of exercises to do that weren't really painful or uncomfortable, and ended up doing a lot of walking and light hiking, as well as some squats and stretching. An interesting thing about the last months of pregnancy is that your body produces a hormone called "relaxin" that literally relaxes your joints - for me, that meant I got super flexible even though I wasn't actively trying to get stretchier.

Ryan arrives!

Little Ryan came along at the end of a 24-hour labor, arriving at 3:33am. For those wondering: yes, it is harder than a 2K. I think being a rower helped with overall pain tolerance, but probably the best thing you can do to prepare would be those (awful) workouts where you're going for an unknown number of intervals, and you just have to keep going and not be able to tell that the interval you're on is the last one. I didn't want pain meds during labor or delivery, and thanks to having the support of my husband and a great doula (who's also the #2 Muay Thai fighter in Germany...what?!), was able to do that.

First family walk...

Thankfully, Ryan and I were both doing pretty well after she joined us, and we were able to go for a first family walk just a few days after we got home. I mostly walked for the first month, and tried to get a lot of sleep (not so easy with a newborn, nursing, healing, etc.) The second month postpartum, I started doing a little erging and some core. Our gym was sponsoring a 5K erg contest, so I decided to step up my training - doing 5K steady state pieces, 500m and 1K and 1500m interval sets, and other prep workouts. I ended up with a 19:02 5K, which I was pretty proud of, considering I'd had a baby less than 10 weeks earlier!

Around the time that I went back to work, I decided I wanted to work out every day. I didn't realize it at first, but I got really dehydrated and my milk supply was affected. I didn't know what was going on and got really worried, and backed way off of working out. Thankfully, it resolved quickly, and I've been able to get back to building up into training again.

It's really weird, as an athlete whose life pretty much revolved around being in touch with my body, to go through a year-plus where I was constantly feeling weird or nauseous or uncomfortable or just - not like myself. I love our little girl, and going through this journey has made me respect even more the women in rowing and in other sports that train while pregnant, have their baby, and get back to training and continue to dominate. I am also so grateful to be part of a sport that I've already been able to get back to. I'm also linking up when I can with a running group for new parents here - "Stroller Warriors" - and it's awesome to have a group that is so supportive of each other.

"Stroller Warriors" PT testing day. Pullups!

When you're part of a team, it's so much more enjoyable to push yourself to go faster and try and go just a bit further past what you thought you could do. In some ways, it's humbling to be quite a bit slower than I have been before. In other ways, I'm really proud of how quickly I see myself getting stronger and fitter. I also feel lucky that so many of my U.S. teammates and international competitor-friends are going through similar journeys now/recently/soon - and to see all of us kicking butt, in our own ways!

I'll be working to post more regularly now - it's tricky with a little one! - but I'm hoping to be racing at the Charles again this year, if not sooner, so... playlists at the very least. It feels great to be back at it! Thanks for all the support. Go USA! (And go moms!)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Keeping Your Back Healthy and Injury-Free During Erg Season

Rowers on both coasts are off the water and onto the ergs ahead of 2K season, CRASH-Bs, and the important erg tests that start recruiting processes or slotting rowers into 1V, 2V and 3V. Staying healthy and keeping your body feeling good is critical to getting in the training you need to succeed.

Back Pain in Rowing

I'm not a doctor or a PT, but I can share some of my experiences and my teammates' experiences. Here is why your back may be hurting. The gist is that your back can get tweaked either because you don't have good body position from the get go, or because you lose your good body position as you get tired - from a long session or from taking hard strokes. As you get tired, you stop sitting up well and using your core as much (because you're tired), and start having more flexion through your back. Back fatigue or back pain that you only feel at the end of a training session can be different than back pain that you have all the time on the erg - if it's hurting from the first few strokes, it's a good idea to go see a PT or doctor.

Strong and weak body position at finish. Image via +WorldRowingFISA.

Your coach may have a series of warm up or cool down exercises or stretches that you do as a team. Current thought for rowers and all athletes says that it's important to warm up and strengthen your muscles through their functional range of motion (the movement range you'll be using during rowing). If you're looking to add in bodyweight exercises that activate, warm up and strengthen some of the really important muscles for keeping your core strong and engaged, I've put together some good ones below. Each is linked to a video showing good form.

Warm-Up (2 Sets of 10 each)

Do 10 of each exercise, going through all exercises twice (2 sets of 10 each)
Good Mornings (put your knuckles on your temples if behind your head is uncomfortable)
Back Extensions
Lunge Series (Front and Back, Lateral, Spiderman - do 10 each leg for each direction)
Deep Bodyweight Squat

Post-Practice Stretching (2 sets of 45 seconds each)

Do 45 seconds on/15 seconds off for each stretch, going through all stretches twice (2 sets of 45" each)
*Can also use these between erg pieces to help relieve tension in back. Good Mornings, above, also provide a good stretch.
Half Pigeon
Figure 4
1 Leg Across

Bonus: Strengthening Your Functional Range of Motion

These exercises will help you build and strengthen your core. These can be done with bodyweight or using a 10 to 25-pound plate or dumbbell. Do 2 sets of 10 of each exercise.
Back Extensions (if using weight, hold against chest with arms crossed)
Bulgarian Split Squat (hold weight in front of chest, just below chin, and keep chin and chest up)
Deep Bodyweight Squat (hold weight in front of chest, just below chin, and keep chin and chest up)
Reverse Hyperextension (if using weight, works best with a medicine ball held between feet. You can use a bench pull or weight bench to create a platform; the range of motion is similar to a back extension.)

If you have other bodyweight warmup, stretching or strengthening exercises that have made a difference for your back, share them in the comments below!

Stay healthy and happy erging!

Monday, November 30, 2015

2K Ninja: Breaking Through the No-PR Plateau

Thanksgiving is over and winter training has officially commenced. I sat down to write about strategies for breaking through the no-PR plateau (when you're training and racing and should be getting faster but for some reason your 2K - or 6K - isn't showing it). And then I realized: who better to hear this from than someone who's just done it in a big, game-changing way?

I worked with this athlete - aka 2K Ninja #1 - this summer (along with her counterpart, 2K Ninja #2). After taking big chunks of time off her 2K in her first year of rowing, it had been months and months since she'd PR'd. Unfortunately, her 2K was right in the "maybe" zone - not slow, but not quite recruitable. The Ninjas put in a lot of hard work and in just under 2 months, 2K Ninja #1 was on her way with a 2K PR that got her recruited to - and accepted at - her dream college.

Our training mixed some of the things she was already doing, like steady state and longer hard pieces, with strength training, super-focused steady state, and some really tough 2K prep workouts. But as she puts it, it was something else that made the difference.

Here's our Q & A on how she broke through the plateau.

Esther: Let's talk numbers. What did you start with, and where'd you end up?

2K Ninja #1: I came in with a 7:30.3, which was basically where I'd been last winter and spring. Halfway through working with you, I pulled a 7:28.8. Then on the last day of our program I went 7:21.4. So in just under 8 weeks, I took 8.9 seconds off.

E: What was different about the work we did compared to what you were doing before?

2KN: I didn't expect for us to do so much steady state work (I kind of expected the hard stuff!) At first I was skeptical that it would help me, but as I kept working I saw my steady state split drop and drop, and then my 2K split as well!

E: What gain are you most proud of from last summer?

2KN: Probably even more than my 2K score, I'm proud of how I was able to mentally tackle each erg and water workout you gave me. At the beginning of the program, you wrote down these workouts that seemed insurmountable. But we worked on not just the physical aspects of the rowing, but the mental aspects as well. By the end of the program, I was able to mentally tackle any workout you wrote down and take it one stroke at a time, and I was able to translate that into my mental state during my 2K.

E: Sounds like a lot of hard work! If you had it to do over again, would you?

2KN: Yeah, it was, but it was definitely worth it. I not only dropped a significant chunk of time off my 2K, but I became stronger as an all-around rower. You pushed me harder than I'd ever been pushed before, and I learned things I'll take with me for the rest of my rowing career. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

E: Is there any part of rowing you like better now?

2KN: I definitely have a better appreciation for longer steady state pieces and how they help build endurance and speed. I also developed a weird liking towards the erg. At different points in the program we would be doing the same workout each week, and each week you would lower the splits I was supposed to hit. The first week I was all over the place and not even close. But by the last week I was able to hit them right on, even though the splits were significantly faster. Being able to measure that difference on the monitor really helped me see that my hard work was paying off.

E: What did your parents think of how you spent your summer vacation?

2KN: My parents were amazed by both the process and what it accomplished. They'd seen me over and over again only being able to take tenths of seconds off my 2K, and seen my frustration. I don't think they were prepared for such a big PR. I would come home every day pretty worn out, but I don't think they really understood  the work we were doing until they heard my score.

E: What would you tell someone who's thinking about putting in the work you did to get better at rowing and to get a better 2K?

2KN: Go for it! If you're willing to put in the work and you have a good plan, the changes you'll see in your erg score and in your rowing overall will astonish you. Be willing to give everything you have and to push for one split lower. Also, "impossible" workouts are almost never impossible. Take it one stroke at a time and trust that you can accomplish what you set your mind to.

So there you have it! Set your big goal, figure out your plan to get there, commit to the work it'll take and to building the toughness it will definitely take, and then get after stroke at a time!

Happy training,

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

5 Tips for Successful Winter Break Training (*And no, it’s not too late!)

It's that time of year again: it's cold and dark out, you're on a break from school or work, and you are perhaps feeling like sleeping in every morning, eating Christmas cookies whenever you want, and maybe-just maybe-putting off today's workout(s) til tomorrow. (Or maybe that's just me...) Regardless, here are five tips to help you make the most of the rest of your winter break training!

1.   Set yourself up for success.

When you’re at school, work or not on vacation, you know what time you’re heading to the boathouse or gym, and (usually) have a general idea of what you’re going to do when you get there. You know where your running shoes, workout clothes, water bottle and iPod are. Look ahead at your schedule between now and the end of your break and see where those good time slots are – and then mentally and physically (use your phone alarm and calendar) to schedule them in. If you’re dressed for a workout and your alarm is going off, it’s easier to get out the door and get moving – even to the workout equipment in the unheated garage – than if you’re lounging in your new Snuggie on the couch and thinking about whether today should just be your rest day.

2.   Find a buddy for the hard stuff (and the easy stuff).

If you have a recommended workout plan for the break, chances are you looked at it and thought the cross-training/steady state workouts seemed do-able, but groaned when you saw the hard erg workouts. FYI: it’s much better to do these with a teammate/workout buddy if you can. When I’m home, I wake up before 5am and drive to my nearest teammate, 30 minutes away, so that I can get in at least the challenging part of the day’s workouts with a buddy. No, I don’t always want to get up early, but guess what? That’s what naps are for, and you get to take them, because you’re on break!

For cross-training off the erg, check out November Project – chances are there’s one near you that you can join for one to three weekly workouts while you’re home.

3.   Be realistic.

Individual training during winter break is not usually when you are going to PR on workouts. (Although if you do PR – awesomeness! Enjoy it!) Be realistic about what you are shooting for in each workout, whether it’s heart rate, split, dumbbell weight, speed, or attention to technique. You are far more likely to continue to move towards your training and racing goals by training consistently – being able to check off every workout – than by cramming many workouts together to try to make up for lost time, or by blowing it out on the workouts you do so that you’re forced to rest due to injury or fatigue.

Consistency isn't sexy, but it's what produces results. Set realistic goals for each workout and if you are feeling like you have more in the tank, get faster as you go.

4.   Don’t throw nutrition out the window.

It’s a time-honored tradition that the holidays are meant for indulging – big meals, lots of drinking, whipped cream as a part of the food pyramid, etc. If that’s part of what makes the holidays great for you – don’t give it up! But you will enjoy those indulgences more if you plan them, but stick to good nutrition the rest of the time. If you’re going to have several drinks on New Year’s, get your Dec. 31 workout(s) in early and eat right that day before going out. Plan your schedule so that Jan. 1 can either be a rest day where you eat right, or an eat-right day with an easier workout in the late afternoon. The huge holiday breakfast at your relatives’ house will be that much more enjoyable if you haven’t also stuffed your face every other morning that week!

5.   Get some good tunes!

Training mostly by yourself over the holidays can mean that you get sick of your music really fast – but you keep listening to it because you can’t stand the terrible tunes that are being blasted by the gym/the high school rowers at your hometown club/your parents.

To that effect, here are three new playlists to help you stay motivated through the rest of your break!

For logging miles:
See Ya Next Year Playlist

Everybody needs a little electro/house:
Ecstasy Erg Playlist

And now for a little throwback:
Music Make You Lose Control Playlist

And you can find more playlists here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here. :)

Happy Training!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#GivingTuesday: Why I’m Encouraging You to Give Something that Isn’t Money Today

A challenging aspect of supporting a cause is that a lot of the time it requires you to make your fellow human beings a little uncomfortable. Think about the kids flagging you down on the street to talk about their cause. The cashier who asks you if you’d like to give a dollar to support the store’s charity as a line of folks wait behind you. The often plaintive pictures of suffering that accompany donation letters and infomercials.

Sometimes we’re uncomfortable because we know we’re not supposed to say what we’re thinking: “I already have plans for the time or the money that you’re asking me for.” Sometimes it’s because we know that although the idea of a cause might be good, we’re not sure how what we’re being asked to give is going to translate into the end goal.

Rowers and athletes succeed because we know how to sit with discomfort. We also succeed by seeing our end goals and seeing how our actions move us forward towards achieving them.

Today, on Giving Tuesday, I am asking you to consider giving a gift that fits in that uncomfortable category. It is also a gift that will unequivocally help save lives.

Be The Match is our national bone marrow registry. To register to be listed in it takes about 15 minutes and swabbing the inside of your cheek with a few Q-tips. That’s it.

What does the registry – and what do bone marrow transplants – do?

The registry works to match blood cancer patients with related and unrelated healthy people who have similar genes. If matched, the healthy people are then asked to make a donation – through either a blood donation or through a bone marrow donation, where a very small amount of marrow is taken from the donor’s hip bone – to the patient.

When a leukemia, lymphoma, or other blood cancer patient receives a bone marrow transplant, they receive more years of life and the chance at a higher quality of life for those years, whether the donation and accompanying treatment cure the cancer or not.

Registering is a big ask, even though only about 1 out of every 1,200 registry members will be matched to a patient in need. It’s uncomfortable to think about being asked to help support or save someone else’s life. It’s uncomfortable to think about the 70 percent of patients in need who do not find a donor in time. And it’s uncomfortable to think about how we would feel, standing in their shoes.

But we — rowers and athletes alike — are okay with feeling discomfort when we know how it will motivate us and inspire us to our goal. It’s how the daunting, the seemingly impossible, is achieved. We know how to believe.

So please consider registering today. You can sign up here and visit this page to learn more about Be The Match

In strength,
Esther and the Team Byron

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Get Lean and Strong: The Rowing Machine

Rowing machine. Rower. Ergometer. Erg. Whatever you call it*, the erg is your best choice for a full-body workout, whether strength, weight loss, or fitness is your goal.

Rowing is a "strength-endurance" sport - physiologically, it's like lifting a weight again and again and again. It's not pure strength – all those "reps" limit the amount that you can lift. But neither is it pure endurance – all that weight will put a cap on the number of reps. Because it's both – and because rowing is a full-body motion – you can use rowing to enhance a wide variety of training dimensions.

*FYI: the usual term for a rowing machine is an “erg”.

JBSC (Just Burning Some Calories): Rowing for Fitness

If calorie burn is your goal, rowing to lose weight is a great option. Rowing machines are used by many trainers (and are featured on shows such as The Biggest Loser) because training on rowing machines burns more calories per hour than just about any other activity. Three critical elements: rowing with correct form, easing into rowing as 100% of your workout, and adding variety so that you don't get bored.

Rowing correctly

Check out Concept2's how-to or (shameless self-promotion) my NYTimes Well.Blog video for a quick intro to the rowing stroke. Ideally, get a friend who knows how to row to show you how, or check out a class at a rowing gym for actual instruction. If you're using correct rowing technique, it should feel challenging, but not like you're going to die after two minutes. Aim to take between 20 and 24 strokes per minute and try to go at least 5 to 10 minutes straight before taking it easy for a minute. The "fan setting" on the side of the machine, if there is one, should be at around 4. (Setting the fan at 10 will not give you a better workout on the rowing machine!) Adjust the feet height so that the straps run across the widest part of your foot.

Easing into it

If you've never run for a long (or short) distance before, the smart thing to do is run for a few minutes, walk for a minute, and repeat. Eventually, you'll be able to take shorter and shorter breaks until you can run continuously. The same goes for rowing. Aim for consistency, good form, and simple, strong strokes. Start out aiming to get in 20 minutes of rowing with 5 minutes of "paddling", or easy rowing (total workout length: 25 minutes). Break up the 25 minutes as 1 minute paddle, 4 minutes rowing, and repeat. Warm up before and foam roll/stretch after. Your legs, back and shoulders will thank you for it!

Add variety

The erg screen/monitor (right) and what it means!
Especially once you start getting comfortable with longer sessions on the rowing machine, you'll want to mix it up. The two ways to do this are stroke rating -- how many strokes you take per minute, usually between 20 and 30 -- and power, which you can monitor through your split -- the time it takes you to row 500 meters. Try breaking up your session into pyramids of different ratings or power - or both. For example, row 19 minutes as 4'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3'-4' at stroke ratings 22-24-26-28-26-24-22. Go faster (decrease your time per 500 meters, that is, your "split") as you increase the stroke rating.

Them Backs Though: Power Rowing

Rowing helps with Olympic-caliber strength (David Banks, left) and more power and endurance in your WODs (right).

It's no secret that rowers have some pretty nice backs. And legs. And arms. And abs. Part of that is that aside from rowing, most competitive rowers incorporate a good amount of strength training and core work into their training plans. But the rowing stroke is a great way to increase your "pull" strength and complements many Olympic lifts and related muscle chains. The keys: form and power.

Correct rowing machine technique

Check out the videos above for a visual on form. Even if you're rowing for power and strength, skip the underhand or alternating grip. The idea is to compress with a supported, upright body towards the flywheel, and then drive out powerfully with your legs, layering in a dynamic body swing and the arms finishing the stroke. Think 60-70 percent legs, 20-30 percent body, 10 percent arms. Just like a power clean or a high pull from the ground, the arms are mostly important for connecting the work you started with your legs and your back to the bar (or in this case, the erg handle). On the "drive", the powerful part of the stroke, you should feel engagement in your quads, glutes, core, and lats, and mostly be feeling the contact points of your feet on the footplate and the handle in your hands (more than your butt on the seat).

Power rowing

Some of the muscles activated in the rowing stroke. Image courtesy of GymNomads.

To build strength on the rowing machine, focus on taking powerful strokes at a low stroke rating. You will be able to do this at ANY fan setting; the harder you work, the stronger the machine's resistance will be. Do sets of 10-30 strokes as powerfully as you can with correct form, then "paddle" to recover for 10 strokes. Aim for a total of 80-120 strokes to start.  This is a work-recovery pattern similar to that of football, rugby, lacrosse, and many other sports: short bursts of power followed by some rest. Power-focused rowing is a great addition to just about any lifting program.

Rowing for Endurance and Cross-Training

It's always a hot debate whether rowers, swimmers, or cross-country skiers are the fittest athletes of all. (It's rowers, obviously.) Besides burning calories and building power, rowing is a great way to improve your endurance, whether your end goal is more rowing or another sport entirely. Rowing for running? Rowing for triathlon? Rowing for Ironman? Rowing to help your 10K, half-marathon, or marathon training? Rowing because you are recovering from a sports injury? Rowing will get you fitter! The keys are: good technique and breathing.

Rowing technique

Because rowing is a full-body workout, it's a great training supplement and even recovery tool to help you get in good training and strengthen your non-sport-specific muscle and endurance systems. If you've tweaked a foot or other body part in your training, rowing may allow you to keep training while giving that a rest. Check out the videos above and descriptions of good rowing technique to get started.

Breathing while rowing

Don't forget to breathe!

Whether you use rowing for interval training or to log miles, it will improve your aerobic system. Your goal while rowing should be to keep breathing well by sitting up and supporting your upper body. Most rowers take two breaths per stroke. Take a breath, roll up to the "catch", exhale on the "drive" (which will help you engage your core), then breathe in and out as your arms and body come back up the recovery. Then breathe in again as you roll up to the catch. Timing your breathing to the stroke, just like running, swimming, and cycling, will help you practice relaxation and efficiency.

Rowing Workouts to Lose Weight, Build Strength, and Get Fit

Power Rowing

  •       Minute On, Minute Off. 5 minute warm-up: paddle, get loose, and take a few hard 10s (driving hard, get the stroke rating up between 25 and 30 for 10 strokes). Workout: 1 minute "on", driving hard at stroke rate 28, then 1 minute "off", paddling at stroke rate 20. Do 10 interval sets (20 minutes total). 5 minute cool down. PRO TIP: Try to match your speed or go a little faster each "on" interval.
  •       1, 2, 3 Pyramid. Workout: 3'-2'-1'-2'-3'-2'-1'-2'-3' "on", with one minute paddle between each interval (i.e., 3’ on, 1’ off, 2’ on, 1’ off, etc.) Do your 3-minute pieces at stroke rate 22, 2-minute pieces at 24, and 1-minute pieces at 26. PRO TIP: If you're worried about keeping track of what piece you're on, use the menu [Select Workout: Intervals: Variable] to set up the whole workout ahead of time.
  •       Rugby Workout. 5 minute warm-up: : paddle, get loose, and take a few hard 10s (driving hard, get the stroke rating up between 25 and 30 for 10 strokes). Workout: 1250m - 750m - 500m - 250m - 750m. All pieces are at max. Rest between pieces is 2'-90"-1'-90". You can also do this workout with a partner, where your work is their rest and vice versa. PRO TIP: Go for consistency as well as aggression - your fastest pieces will be when you hold one speed or get a little faster as the piece goes on.
  •       Partner 500s. Workout: 8x500m, as fast as possible. Your partner's piece is your rest. PRO TIP: Use your average speed from your first piece as your starting point for subsequent pieces. "Negative split" (get faster within each 500m piece) for maximum training benefit.

Rowing Workouts for Fitness and Endurance

  •       Playlist Workout (The Hook Brings You Back). Make a 20-, 30-, 45-, or 60-minute playlist. Press play and start rowing. Every time a song's hook or chorus comes on, raise your stroke rating 2-4 beats and "drop your split" (speed up) 3-6 seconds (i.e., from 2:15 to 2:11) and hold the faster speed and pace for the full hook/chorus. When the hook ends, transition back to your original speed and stroke rating. PRO TIP: Harmonica solo optional. Need to get started with a playlist? Check out the ones right here!
  •       2K Variety. Set the monitor for 2000-meter intervals with 2 minutes of rest (you'll do four total). Treat each piece like four 500-meter pieces. Alternate, so that Piece 1 and Piece 3 are stroke rates 20/22/24/22 per 500, and Piece 2 and Piece 4 are stroke rates 22/24/26/24. "Paddle" (row with zero effort) or stand up and stretch during your 2' rest. PRO TIP: Keep consistent speed at each stroke rating from piece to piece - your stroke rate "24" 500 on Piece 1 should be the same speed as your "24" on Piece 4.
  •       Miles for Miles. If you're looking to go for longer distances and times, still try to mix it up with different stroke ratings and speeds. To boost training, don't stay at any one stroke rating for longer than 1K to 2K (4 to 10 minutes). As you row for longer sessions, aim to keep your stroke rating between 18 and 22, and your heart rate between 130 and 160.

CFit-Specific Workouts and The CrossFit Open

  •       For a faster Jackie and help with CFit Open workouts as soon as they're posted, check out my awesome teammate Erin Cafaro's YouTube channel for Crossfit Rowing tips.
  •       Need help now? Tweet me: @estherlofgren.
  •       What other rowing questions do you need answered? Post to the comment section below!

Monday, March 17, 2014

8 Power Foods for Rowers and Athletes

Whether you're training for your very first rowing race or towards the Olympic Games, choosing great nutrition is one of the biggest ways to up your game. It's not always easy or convenient to have good foods available or incorporated into every meal and snack, but I pulled together 8 of the big ones that you really can utilize every day, along with some recipes that work for real life!

Rower Power Food: Berries

Bang for your buck, these are some of the most potent nutritional nuggets out there. Antioxidants and vitamins give berries high ANDI scores: they help protect against and process the damage you do to your muscles and body from hard workouts or a high-stress day at work.

Quick recipes:
  • Add your favorite berries (or whichever type is on sale at the grocery store that week!) to plain or vanilla Greek yogurt.
  • Add to ½ cup regular or gluten-free oats, add almonds and water or milk, and microwave for 1:30 to get a quick breakfast or pre-workout snack that will stay down but keep you fueled for hours.

Rower Power Food: Quinoa

I love this commercial. But...quinoa (KEEN-wah) can actually be really delicious, and for athletes, it's also 100% superfood. It is one of the smallest grains in the world, which is great because (getting all nerdy here) that means it has a lot of nutrient-dense outer casing compared to the amount stuff inside each grain. Translation? More proteins, fiber, and amino acids (including all 9 essential aminos) than just about any other food.

Quick recipes:
  • Following package instructions, cook quinoa on the stovetop with water or chicken broth. Add spices (I love garlic, a bit of onion, salt and black pepper). Eat as a side dish or a quick pre- or post-workout snack.
  • Cook quinoa with water and make a few cups extra. If you regularly blend pre- or post-workout shakes, add 1/2 cup or more of cooked quinoa to your shake for an extra boost of the good stuff.
  • This recipe (YUM!) for quinoa, kale, walnut and sweet potato goodness. Add some cooked chicken breast for an extra protein boost.

Rower Power Food: Nuts

Nuts (I’m partial to almonds and walnuts) and nut butter are awesome nutritional tools. Adding a small handful of almonds to a primarily-carb meal or piece of fruit will balance your blood sugar out and avoid hangry-ness for longer! They have good fats and protein, so a little goes a long way.

Quick recipes:
  • Buy the individual packages of raw almonds at Trader Joe’s or your grocery store, or make your own by bagging ¼ - 1/3 cup portions for a quick on-the-go snack.
  • This recipe for DIY all-natural gluten-free protein bars. If it’s a little plain for your taste, add a touch more honey or stevia, or go crazy and add chocolate chips. Delicious and nutritious!

Rower Power Food: Fish

Oily fish like salmon (fresh, frozen or canned) and fresh or frozen tuna are huge nutritional boosters because of their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids as well as lean protein. While canned tuna (I prefer water-packed, low-sodium white tuna) lacks the omega-3 boost, it is a tasty and convenient way to get lean protein cheaply and on the go.

Quick recipes:
  • Check out your grocery store selection of canned fish and try something new. My boyfriend, Jake, is often on the go, but makes a healthy lunch by crumbling gluten-free crackers into a bag of tuna. You can also try eating the mix in lettuce wraps, or mix it up and add something sweet or savory, like relish or black beans.
  • Broil a fresh or defrosted salmon filet with a couple of pinches of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. Leftovers work well for lunch the next day on a spinach salad with balsalmic vinegar and olive oil!

Rower Power Food: Bananas

Bananas are nature’s perfect on-the-go snack. We went through so many in the Olympic Village cafeteria that the U.S. team staff had to go buy more boxes every day! Water and a banana with some salted almonds after a workout or for breakfast delivers all the food groups, plus the right balance of electrolytes—the natural potassium found in bananas and salt—to hydrate the natural way.

Quick recipes:
  • As is, plus some salted almonds or mixed into plain or vanilla Greek yogurt—balanced nutrition that tastes great!
  • I found out earlier this year that I have a food sensitivity to eggs. You can actually substitute half of a ripe banana for eggs in many baking recipes. Just don’t try to use them to make an omelette!

Rower Power Food: Beans

Beans are the secret way to add lean protein, fiber, nutrients and FLAVOR to your diet without adding saturated fat, found in many meats. If you are trying to limit your meat intake while being an athlete, beans are your friend! As a California girl, I love Mexican food, and you can use healthy bean options to make that cuisine an athlete-friendly option.

Quick recipes:
  • Fat-free refried or whole canned black beans, low-fat cheese, shredded chicken breast, salsa, and a big pile of spinach or shredded lettuce makes a delicious and healthy Mexican salad.
  • Plunking rehydrated or canned black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans, a can of stewed tomatoes, some browned lean ground beef and onions, spices, and beef stock into the slow cooker all day yields a delicious superfood chili with leftovers you can freeze in single-serves and bring to work for lunch.

Rower Power Food: Greens

Whether you eat them straight, juice them, wilt them, or bake them into chip form, leafy greens (my favorites are spinach and kale) are unbelievably good for you. In fact, they get the highest scores of anything we eat on the ANDI guide! Besides great nutrition, greens also provide a great source of fiber. Shooting for at least two big servings of these a day is a great way to help boost your systems across the board.

Quick Recipes:
  • Switch out your regular sandwich bread for lettuce or kale wraps.
  • Try a green juice blend of kale, carrots, spinach, a green apple, and a little ginger. It’s a lot less sweet than the smoothies you can buy off the shelf, but it’s yummy and has a ton more nutrients!

Rower Power Food: Milk

Milk has recently gotten an undeserved bad rap. Yes, we can turn it into ice cream, butter or Brie cheese, but on its own, low-fat or non-fat milk is an awesome power food. Likewise, Greek yogurt (the low or fat-free varieties with no or little added sugar, like plain or some vanillas) and low-fat cheese can be great tools for getting enough protein without a lot of crazy extras. And chocolate milk remains one of the best recovery nutrition tools you can buy in your grocery store.

Quick recipes:
  • Try plain Greek yogurt with berries, a ripe banana, almonds, and/or gluten-free oats. Try making your own version of Bircher Muesli, a popular European breakfast.
  • A glass of low-fat milk with a handful of almonds or a banana is a great pre-workout or for when the afternoon drag hits in the office!
Fueling smart lets you keep training hard. Eat to win!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Acupuncture: Healing and Getting (Un)Stuck from Injury


The #1 question I get when I tell people I use acupuncture as a healing and treatment tool is: "Doesn't it hurt?" We all have memories of being a little kid in the doctor's office as a nurse walked over with what looked like a foot-long needle and stabbed us with it. The agony that could not be calmed, even by the coolest Snoopy bandage!

Actually, acupuncture doesn't feel like that at all. Nor does it feel like getting your ears pierced. Nor does it feel like getting a tattoo. (Sorry, Mom...) The closest approximation I can give is a very localized feeling of using a stim machine--or of a slight electrical tingle--but in your muscles, not across your skin.

Before I finally tried acupuncture in 2011, my thoughts on it--in spite of hearing from some teammates that it was a great healing and injury prevention tool--were that it was somewhere between New Age-y weirdness and masochism. You're suggesting I get someone to stab a bunch of needles into my knotted, injured muscle? Thanks, but I'll stick to my ice packs and stretching and massage.

Acupuncture needles are tiny... 10 of them fit in a typical medical syringe!

And then I found myself racing in Germany on a chronically injured rib--and the only team who'd brought a physical therapist was Japan. A favor was called in and I ended up being lucky enough to be treated by their team physio, who was astounded that I'd never used acupuncture as a treatment option. was amazing. There was certainly no pain from the needles, which looked almost as thin as a human hair. Instead, the needles found some of the nerves that refused to relax, and I felt them "fire"--contract or flex part of the neighboring muscle--and then let go. I could actually feel the muscles around my injury calm down. After that, the physio was able both to adjust my spine (like a chiropractor) and do a smaller amount of massage that really made a difference, because the area was not on lockdown. It took exactly one session for me to become a believer.

A map of our nervous system. What's driving our muscles!

As athletes, as rowers, we focus a lot on our muscles, our lungs, our balance, our mental game. We don't think as much about how all of those are run and impacted by our nervous system. When I drive my legs as hard as I can, that is my brain telling the nerves in my legs to fire the right muscles in the right sequence. Although sometimes muscles sustain actual injuries and damage, it's my experience that many of the common "knots" that don't go away after stretching, foam-rolling, and a nap after practice are often caused by the nervous system being out of whack. Sometimes it's your body trying to protect an injured or weaker muscle or area; sometimes it's a muscle that's been twisted or overused. Either way, acupuncture is a very under-utilized tool that can directly tap into the nervous system and help get the recovery and healing process back on track.

The acupuncture map.

I've been lucky enough to be treated since by some of the best practitioners in the country since: Dana Harbison in Fort Washington, PA; Lili Gould in San Diego, CA; and Dr. Melanie Six as well as Dr. Yong Chen in Alexandria, VA. Definitely cheek them out if they're local to you! Also, check with your insurance--many policies now cover some or all of acupuncture treatments.

Don't write off acupuncture, especially as a tool to add to your healing and recovery arsenal. I'm so thankful I learned about its benefits!

Heal up and keep training hard--here's to hoping this extra-long winter is over soon!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Winter Training: Sucking it up now so you can hit the GoFast button later

Last Sunday I went to a great class in Seattle at Flywheel, a cycling studio that my former coxswain and always badass Mary Whipple now teaches at. What’s different about a Flywheel class (versus a standard spin/indoor cycling class) is that competition—if you want it—is there for the taking. You zero in on targeting certain RPMs or power output as you’re cycling along, but a few times throughout the class, everyone’s total work done—listed with a username which can be as anonymous as you want—flashes up on a screen, so you can race others if that’s your thing (yes, that’s my thing.)

The instructor, Aina, a past rower at Trinity College, said a few things during the class that made me think about winter training. Besides “Suck it up!”, which she announced at the start of class was her motto, she also said, “Getting faster is what you do when no one is watching. Getting tougher is what you do when you keep working even when your body says it’s done.” And then: “What is your goal for this practice? For this minute?”

Winter training is about all of those things. There’s a lot more work on land, and maybe only work on land. Land workouts, in general, require a lot more sucking it up. The erg, like the single, is honest and makes you accountable for your speed and power. So does the weight room. That can be harder, but it can also be so much more motivating. Thinking back to high school—sometimes on the water I’d be working on something technical, or pouring everything I had into a piece, and we weren’t clicking as a crew and working together, and there wasn’t any feedback on whether I was getting better or faster. When you're just starting out, that can be pretty frustrating.

The erg, as much sucking it up as it requires sometimes, is by and large a what-you-put-into-it-is-what-you-get-out-of-it tool. You can either look at December, January, and February as three hellish months, and spend each practice feeling sorry for yourself that your team isn’t on the water—or you can show up to each practice, each day with a goal in mind. What goal? Well, that’s up to you. Going faster or being more consistent than the last time you did that workout is a start. Test your limits on what you think your 5K/6K, 2K, and max paces are. Chase down the teammate whose seat you’re after. If you’re the fastest one already, see how much you can widen the gap. Each day you set, pursue with your best effort, and accomplish these little goals, you get closer to your big ones—making the boat you want to make, helping your team build the fitness, strength and mental toughness you’ll need to win together, and getting faster than you ever thought you could be.

Michelle Guerette, one of my first erg inspirations, in our college erg room. Photo: NYTimes.

In a race, you have to be confident in the work you’ve put in, sitting on that starting line. You have to trust your teammates because you’ve seen them push themselves beyond their limits. And you have to trust yourself that you aren’t going to let up for even one stroke, no matter how much your legs or lungs are burning, because you know that you’ve pushed yourself so many times through workouts that hurt even more than this race is going to. In a race, you don’t get to see your teammates pushing themselves, and they can’t see you. You can only feel each other committing and trust that you will go to the absolute bottom of the well for each other to get across that line first.

What motivates me on these dark, freezing mornings or pitch-black evenings when I’m heading down to the boathouse or erg room or the little alcove in the basement where the old rattle-y erg lives is knowing, like the instructor said Sunday, that getting faster and getting tougher is about being your own competitor. It’s knowing that I am working alongside my teammates, even from far away, because we know how hard we are working towards our goals each practice, each day. And it’s about loving to win and to put in the work it takes to do that.

Happy Winter Training,

Saturday, October 19, 2013

HOCR 2013: For the Love of the Charles

If all of American rowing has a Homecoming weekend, it's Head of the Charles here in Boston, Mass., and it's glorious. Every year I wonder if it's just something I'm nostalgic about, but day one is done, and no, it's just as wonderful as I thought it would be.

It's impossible to duck into a coffee shop or even walk 20 feet without running into a former teammate or rowing friend. The whole weekend passes in a blur of new stories and familiar faces, although over the years the evolution has shifted from new significant others or fun summer coaching gigs to babies, jobs, houses, rings, surgeries, family, and everything else. Our worlds have gotten so much bigger, but the rowing world, even as the schedule at the Charles is full to bursting, remains so wonderfully interconnected.

Every year I've been in training, no matter how in or out of shape I am, the trip down the race course remains equally lung- and leg-burningly painful, although it never seems as excruciating after, recollecting a magnificently-made turn or boat passed with teammates. In spite of myself, I'm already looking forward to racing again the following year.

And the great thing about the Charles: it is the epitome of the rowing family. We're packed into our extended (rowing) family's living rooms, sleeping on futons and floors. It's unthinkable to have a meal this weekend that isn't shared with a long-missed friend. Rowers span over seven decades, generations upon generations, and it's impossible to tell who's the most excited to be here. We're a family brought together by love--the love of this crazy sport and everything that comes with it.

I'm racing tomorrow in the Championship Four at 2:39pm--I'll be bow #4, sitting in stroke, and could not be more excited to tear up the course with an awesome crew, coxswain, and everything I've got. If you're not on the banks of the river, watch live racing here. Good luck to everyone racing and GO USA!!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chungju WRCs: On to the Final!


200m to go...finished just over a second behind Poland (L), and just over half a second ahead of New Zealand (top). Finding bend and love, L to R: me, Susan, Kara, and Megan. PS...Sue and I are pulling even harder with Team Byron wristbands! And PPS...Radcliffe: yes, that's the Mary McCagg we're racing in! So awesome! Photo Credit: Igor Meijer.

We had many improvements in our repechage ("second-chance race") yesterday and did what we needed to do--net a top-2 finish to advance to the medal-level A final Saturday. It was not an easy, graceful, or pretty race, but we were able to establish a strong and effective rhythm for a good chunk of the race, as well as find another gear at the end to respond to a kitchen-sink sprint from New Zealand.

We now have a couple of days to recover, but more importantly, to keep progressing as we have over the last few weeks since being named as a crew--to keep getting a little bit better every day. There were many things we could see, watching video, that we will be trying to improve on technically for our final. But the most important thing--the will to win and the belief that we, as a crew, CAN win--are there, and we are much stronger going to the line knowing that.

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Your USA W4x...excited to get out there Saturday and give 'em hell! Photo credit: Kara Kohler

Today was awesome as we had our first USA medal--our LTAMix2x, Paul Hurley and Natalie McCarthy, took bronze. LTAMix2x stands for Legs/Trunk/Arms Mixed Double, meaning that these athletes have at least partial use of all limbs and may have other para-abilities, such as blindness, etc. We also had two close 4th-place finishes, in the LTAMix4+ and TAMix2x. It is awesome to have every possible boat class that's training towards the 2016 Paralympics represented on our team here as well as every Olympic and non-Olympic boat class. Paul and Natalie: thanks for inspiring everyone heading into finals here in Chungju! #OneTeam #OneGoal

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Natalie and Paul, USA's first medalists, bronze in LTAMix2x! Photo Credit: Allison Frederick.

Pulling hard for Team USA and Team Byron--every stroke, every day. Thanks for your support and Go USA!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Annyeonghaseyo (안녕하세요) from Chungju, South Korea!

Housemate Emily Huelskamp (W4-) and I ready for our big trip...our first glimpse of South Korea from the air...and our first taste of Korean pop culture, a welcome from a K-Pop boy band!

(That's "Hello!") Team USA arrived in Chungju Thursday and are now fully in the swing of things here in South Korea. After a long (just shy of 14 hours!) but stress-free flight, as well as customs and a two-hour bus ride, we were thankful to simply arrive in one piece. However, our arrival was made very special by the welcoming committee, who brought out their best hospitality, even at 9:00pm!

Team USA with our awesome hotel staff as we arrive!

Posing for a photo with our cheerful regatta volunteers. They told us that instead of "Cheese!", we are supposed to say "Kimchi!"

Many of the regatta staff we interact with daily are volunteers--mostly college students (including college rowers) who are donating their time and English skills to helping us figure things out that might have been lost in translation. Since a few things are a little different--that's really awesome, and we owe you big time!

Regatta mascots...the "fire escape" outside our hotel room, aka a chest strap/pulley to rappel down the building...and a gentle reminder not to lean against the elevator door.

It's hot and humid here, but after a summer in NJ (and before that, for me, in DC), Team USA is doing just fine. Turns out the best training trip to acclimate was training at home!

With Susan and Kara on the Chungju Dam, 322 ft. up!  Photo: Kara Kohler.

The hotel where we're staying--a bank training center campus near a large hydroelectric dam--is awesome, with everything from a giant indoor gym to rooms with balconies overlooking the mountains to a dining hall with great food. On our first morning, we took a run around the neighborhood, including to the dam, which has speakers playing Korean. We also have been enjoying finding some of the more exotic wildlife around the campus and at the course.

Cool bugs spotted at the hotel and course. All larger than they appear! Photo (Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle): Ross James.

The main regatta building at the Chungju course. Really beautiful venue!

Our Para-Rowing team will be arriving tomorrow, which will make our squad complete and ready to take on the world. I think this my first World Championships where Team USA actually has the largest team here, and it's an incredible one to be a part of. Click the photo below to check out more photos and videos from the trip in my Facebook album. Thanks for supporting our journey and Go USA!

Team USA representing #TeamByron as we headed out from Princeton. Go USA!!!